In today’s ultra-connected world, we’ve all become accustomed to being “on” all the time. From constantly checking our work email to keeping up with friends and family on social media, it’s tough not to get overwhelmed every once in a while. And, if you’re anything like me, chances are you’ve resorted to Google for tips on how to ease your mind when things get a little too intense.
The truth is, there’s a lot of advice out there. From meditation apps to gratitude journals, the number of options is stressful in itself. That’s why I went to the experts and asked a handful of practicing psychologists how they combat stress in their own lives. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Spend Time in Nature
Ever heard the saying, “Stop and smell the roses”? It might be pretty good advice, after all. According to an article published in Business Insider, being outside can improve your memory, lower blood pressure and fight depression. It’s also a favorite way to unwind for Miami-based clinical psychologist Giulia Suro, Ph.D. “I try to spend some time outside every day,” she told me via email. “I usually take my dog for a walk or at the very least water my plants outside. Getting fresh air and spending some time in sunlight is refreshing and distracting.”
2. Set Boundaries
In our super-connected world, it’s easy to forget to disconnect. “Three years ago, I made a decision not to bring my work computer home, and instead stay late or come in on a weekend if I need to catch up,” said Suro. “Unless I am on-call, I do not check my work email or phone after 7 p.m.” She also told me that she leaves conversations about work at the office. “I try not bring the challenges of work into my relationship with my husband who is in a different field. This has made my house a protected space where I can really disconnect.”
3. Get Creative
Registered drama therapist Azizi Marshall, who is the founder and CEO of the Center for Creative Arts Therapy in Illinois, recommends exploring our creativity as a way to improve our mood. “Whether a morning journal, a 20-minute crafting session or a guitar jam in your living room, your brain craves an opportunity to create,” she told me. “It can provide a release for challenging emotions – basically clearing out the emotional cobwebs from your system through a fun and expressive way.”
Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Connecticut, agrees, saying, “In my business, accomplishments are long term. Therefore, to relieve stress, I love to cook and bake. This provides me with a little accomplishment over the course of an hour, while also preparing nutritious food for my week.”
Psychotherapist and therapeutic relationship coach Rachel Wright told me she’s a big fan of creative expression through singing. “There is no better stress reliever than belting out some show tunes,” she said. “It has been said that people who sing on a regular basis have lower levels of cortisol than people who don’t. Belt it out, baby!”
4. Keep up a Routine
Just like brushing our teeth every morning, sticking to a basic routine is a good way to live in alignment with our goals while reducing the anxiety of dealing with constant unknowns. For Nashville-based clinical psychologist Ashley C. Smith, routines are key to minimizing stress in her daily life. “I wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day and eat meals at the same time every day,” she told me. “It may sound corny, but I set alarms for myself to do these things. Of course, I’m not perfect, I’m human, and I make mistakes, so I don’t always do this, but I find I’m much more stressed when I don’t.”
5. Schedule in Spontaneity
While routines can be great, so can living life unplanned, at least every once in a while. Dr. Helen Odessky, author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, likes to leave room in her schedule to be spontaneous. “I make sure I have some unstructured time in my week,” she said. “This is beneficial for people who are typically bound to a schedule, like therapists.” According to Odessky, you should have at least one day a week that is unstructured, “Wake up and then just decide what you’re going to do.”
With so many known health benefits of exercise, including improving memory and helping you sleep better, it’s no surprise that breaking a sweat is a favorite way to destress for most of the experts I chatted with.
“When I feel stressed, I block out time to exercise – it amps up endorphins and helps me channel the physical energy in a positive way,” said Odessky.
Ziskind is also a fan of exercise, particularly yoga. “Going to yoga classes helps me stretch out physically, calms my anxious mind, and encourages me to remember that I am a being of spiritual energy,” she said. “After I get off my yoga mat, I feel grounded, calm, and ready to take on any challenge, whether that be in my business or in my romantic relationship.”
For Wright, a simple walk often is enough to do the trick. “I try to go on a walk outside every day,” she said. “It can be so easy to get caught up in work, especially when you’re so passionate about it. Walking can boost endorphins, which can reduce stress hormones and alleviate symptoms of depression.”
7. Recognize the Cues
For stress and behavior expert Becky Blake, PhDc, it helps to be in tune with the physical signs of stress. “When our ears turn red or get hot it means to take a break,” she said. “We should be able to regulate our stress responses in less than a minute by taking a break to drink water, take a deep breath – just taking a break.”
8. Let it Pass
Sometimes, stress is inevitable, and that’s when author and psychologist Dr. Paul Coleman says, it’s best to recognize our emotions and let them pass. “I realize that when I am stressed, I am fighting against something: time, pressure, a situation I don’t like. So I pause and tell myself I will not resist,” he explained. “Instead I say to myself, ‘I don’t like this situation, but I accept it.’ I give myself permission to be in the experience rather than fight it.”
It’s Okay to Ask for Help
Whether you decide to take up kickboxing or implement a no-email rule after 5 p.m., the best way to manage stress is by making sure you don’t forget to take care of yourself while you’re out there taking care of everything around you. Give yourself permission to take a break. And, don’t be afraid to ask for help when life gets overwhelming, whether that’s your best friend, your significant other or even a licensed therapist. Stress is something we all experience. But it’s also something we can all get through, together.